It’s a pleasant spring evening in one of the up and coming, trendier areas of North London and Ghost Cult is enjoying a coffee and a chinwag with Mikko Von Hertzen of von Hertzen Brothers. Our discussion takes in musical choices, ditching b-sides, ambition, being on the road and, of course the new record, New Day Rising (Spinefarm)…
New Day Rising also marked a change for the band in terms of recording and production duties. The new album was the first that the band had recorded outside of their native Finland, a decision that Markko explains was entirely purposeful:
Well, look, there’s no one who doesn’t know us in Finland. Everyone has an opinion on us. We felt that as a band we needed someone who was new, who would listen but who would challenge us. So we chose Garth (Richardson, producer of Rage Against the Machine, RHCP, Crue and literally 100s of others). He was cool. He looks at music from a very different perspective from us. We look at music as artists and composers. He is more of a consumer of music.
He knows what works and what doesn’t work from the perspective of the listener and that is very valuable for us. He was good in saying “Hey, that vocal isn’t right, that guitar part is too loud, or not loud enough, that section doesn’t work”. We needed that.
I wondered how that might work in practice with the brothers all being effective songwriters and all having strong opinions about how the record might work. Mikko explains:
Garth brought discipline for sure but he also was good at distilling the songs to what they really were. He stopped everyone pulling the songs apart! He also ensured everyone had time and space to do their parts without interference so he was an effective manager of that too.
New Day Rising is also striking in terms of its brevity-its ten songs come and go in what feels like a heartbeat. Mikko walks me through the editing process:
Doing the record in Vancouver we actually recorded 16 songs, ten of which ended up on the album. To be honest, we felt that some of the songs just were not as good as they could have been, so they got left out. There were times when something didn’t quite click in the recording, or we didn’t feel that the song worked 100% so we decided to have a session – the band, our producer, manager and engineer; 8 people. We and we sat down and decided “Ok, these 10 we will keep.”
We then worked on those songs that were left – I guess you would refer to these as our B-side s- with the record engineering students at the complex where we were laying the album down to give them some first-hand experience of what it’s like to work with a real band.
I suggest to Mikko that listening to the album is a bit like listening to a vinyl album where there are two sides with ‘Dreams’ being the “turn the record over” point. He pauses for a brief moment before agreeing
Exactly! That’s how we think! Whether this way of listening to music is so deeply ingrained in us I don’t know, but that’s what we wanted to do. We knew early in that the record was going to be versatile but the sequencing of the album is deliberate in that it takes you on a trip.
So, for example, the placing of ‘Dreams’ is absolutely purposeful. It’s like “Bang!” – onto the next part of the journey. Equally we ditched the idea that the record needed to sound a particular way. Basically if we think a song is good enough it goes in. We don’t care whether it is in keeping with any “theme”. What I mean is, we don’t consciously look to take a song and feel obliged to make it more metal by adding more heavy guitars or more prog by adding additional musical parts to it. the song just needs to be.
This sense of artistic freedom coupled with a self-belief (but not arrogance) has seen the Von Hertzen Brothers grow their level of support in a very impressive manner but, as Mikko expands, the band remain resolutely ambitious:
Look, in this band there is a lot of talent! he laughs, although you know that there is more than a kernel of truth in this: We knew that if we want to take this band further we have to make a record that is as good as Coldplay or U2 or Foo Fighters. It doesn’t matter what band you choose but, you know, that league. We need to be in that league sonic wise, song-writing wise, the whole thing. All of this has to be as good as the very best.
I’m not sure we are there but we are trying to make that step up. We wanted to do something that would appeal as something fresh, even now at album number six. We have ambition. Not to have wealth or be famous, but musically. We really want to improve and take our listeners by surprise by what we are doing: we want people to say “Wow! This is their best record! each and every time we do something new.
It’s evident that for all their experience to date that this remains a band as hungry today as they were on day one; from arguing over the setlists (“choosing for the festivals is going to be a fucking nightmare” apparently), to worrying about whether anyone will turn up to see them on tour, you’re left with one abiding reflection – if there was one band that you would hope would make it into the big time, you could do a lot worse that hope for these guys.
At the heart of this band is a collective joy at making music, a confidence in what they do but a band who have roots and values and principles.
We are Prog says Mikko as we part our ways. Despite how straightforward this new record is, we are still a prog band. That’s never going away.
Who says nice guys can’t finish first?